Special Report: Extremism

Hamilton Is Not a Safe Space

Those who remain complacent in the face of hatred and violence show their tacit approval of the status quo. Period.

By Myke Hutchings
Published June 27, 2019

The tangled City Hall Pride Flag is an apt metaphor for the City's relationship with the LGBTQ+ community (RTH file photo)
The tangled City Hall Pride Flag is an apt metaphor for the City's relationship with the LGBTQ+ community (RTH file photo)

I awoke this morning to the sound of closet doors slamming shut throughout Hamilton.

I watched last night's council meeting on livestream with great anger and horror, and followed the various twitter feeds of media and attendees.

I am ashamed to call myself a citizen of Hamilton.

I am ashamed that I have given the past 20 years of my life advocating for this city as a musician and as a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

I've given 20 years of my life to this city, organizing, starting LGBTQ friendly events and groups, advocating for transit and accessibility - and last night was the best display that Hamilton City Council can do to show the city is "The Best Place to Raise a Child."

Apparently not children who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+ or the children of parents who do.

In 2007, my husband got the news that he had cancer and would need a transplant or else die. We received this news and went out for a walk, ending up on Locke Street. (We live in the Stipley neighbourhood by the stadium). He broke down in front of a church and I put my arm around him as he wept.

Next thing I knew, I woke up bleeding with broken ribs in St. Joe's ER, with the instructions from officers telling me to "act less gay and maybe you won't get beaten." No charges were laid despite there being multiple eyewitnesses to the beatings Larry and I received.

This was the second beating we received. The first was on Hess Street, where we made the mistake of holding hands in public.

Our house was vandalized multiple times when we first moved in.

Each time we reported these incidents the police did nothing, beyond nod and say there was little that they could do. They didn't even crack their notebooks and take names/details.

This aspect isn't limited to Hamilton - members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community must always be vigilant about public displays of affection (holding hands, touching, walking close), which is why we guard Pride festivals and our safe spaces so ferociously.

With each of these events and the relative inaction of Hamilton Police Services, I've had to modify my expectations about policing. Make no bones about it - as a cisgender, middle-age Caucasian male, I have it FAR easier than my BIPoC, Trans and female-identifying friends.

My last glimmer for Hamilton being a welcoming city for BIPoC and 2SLGBTQIA+ people disappeared when police stood by while a 15-year-old girl got her face smashed in by a man wielding a military helmet. This was an assault shown on video, an assault witnessed by many, including Hamilton Police Services - who were at Hamilton Pride on June 15, 2019.

After June 15, I can say that I no longer feel safe or welcome in my city for the first time in a long while.

This is why I am being harsh on the "powers that be".

This is why I take issue with police forces being allowed, in uniform, in our safe spaces and events. There is a vast divide between the two sides and communication has been decidedly one way. There have been a lot of demands broadcasted to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community but precious little listening, hearing, consideration, concession or compromise from the police.

Yes, the last assault on me took place in 2007. None happened afterward because my husband and I no longer felt safe in our own city, so displays of affection were limited to in private and we even changed how we walked together.

He succumbed to cancer in 2013. The vandalism continued and the person who did it still spits at me when she walks by my house to this date - I eventually stopped reporting these incidents to the police because reporting is a waste of my time.

My point is things haven't changed for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in Hamilton, just as things haven't changed in Toronto. It took a dead white heterosexual female to get police to investigate a serial killer in Toronto while cops were busily trolling parks for people having sex.

Hamilton only has a Pride festival because the 2SLGBTQIA+ community took then-mayor Bob Morrow to the Human Rights Tribunal and we fought and won our right to celebrate in the city.

In 2017, Pride Hamilton was forced to switch venues because the city "accidentally" issued a second permit to the "Soldiers of Odin" to stage a protest at the exact same time and location as Hamilton Pride. We felt unsafe with this as the timing of this protest was clearly aimed at putting us in our place.

In 2018, the "Soldiers of Odin" were joined by professional Evangelical Protesters from Texas and Montana, who disrupted Haldimand Pride and attempted to disrupt ours. Matthew Green led a counter-protest which worked against them. However, they vowed they'd be back.

In 2019, the protesters were also joined by the "Yellow Vests" and several "known individuals", who responded to the counter-protests with weapons, sucker-punches and garden sprayers filled with noxious unknown fluids.

In the 11th hour, the Police asked to place a recruitment tent in the festival. Pride organizers said "let's talk" and then heard radio silence. This is far different than the "No Police at Pride" narrative being given.

That being said, Pride started as a protest to heavy-handed policing coming into our safe spaces, in New York City, in Toronto and in other cities. Society forced the 2SLGBTQIA+ community into a corner, behind closed doors, and then decided that wasn't good enough.

Last night, certain councillors and even the mayor seemed to want that to happen again.

I am an employee of the Ontario Government. I am a musician who supports the community by performing at and producing events year-round. I am an organizer who was a founding member of the Hamilton Gay Men's Chorus. I have helped advocate for accessible transit and worked with the YesLRT campaign. I have helped organize the Hamilton Pagan Harvest Festival for the past five years and Hamilton Pride for the past three years.

I was planning on retiring and opening a business and had started looking at potential properties that would allow me to do so. However, after last night, I feel that if this city will no longer support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, it won't support me as a citizen or a business person.

I'd like to thank Councillors Maureen Wilson, Nrinder Nann, John-Paul Danko and Brad Clark for their words of support and actual allyship. I am proud to say Councillor Nann is my representative on City Council and thank her for attending Hamilton Pride. I thank her for her statement on CHCH and continued allyship.

I call out the councillors who sat in silence through the entire charade. In the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, the statement "Silence equals death" is often used. While it is heavy rhetoric, I have buried friends who committed suicide due to stigmatizing language, buried friends who were beaten and murdered for being queer, and buried friends who died during the AIDS crisis.

Those who remain complacent show their tacit approval of the status quo. Period.

I express my utmost disappointment in Councillor Sam Merulla and Mayor Fred Eisenberger for continuing the rhetoric of victim-blaming and the "two sides" fallacy.

I thought Hamilton could do better. I guess I was wrong.

Myke Hutchings is a musician, writer, photographer, foodie and coffee addict.

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By osborne (registered) | Posted July 03, 2019 at 03:25:41

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I've been trying to get a better understanding of this extremism and city council's reaction or lack of support. It seems that "victim blaming" by some councillors may be at the root. I may be wrong but I think that things need to calm down and better education of city council may be needed. Both sides need to dialogue. Refusing to talk to each other is not good.

The police need to stop Ignoring physical and verbal attacks to any citizen regardless of their sexuality and public displays of affection.

These extremists should not be permitted to use city hall on weekends. I suspect that it is the language and better checks and balances may be needed. If the policy regarding use of city property does not include language dealing with hate speech, council needs the legal department to get to work on it. If the legal aspects are being explored good.

Comment edited by osborne on 2019-07-03 03:52:39

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By Blotto (registered) | Posted July 03, 2019 at 16:48:48

I think that the LGBT community are the ones that are bullying and insufferable.

Examples of Extremism - Like disrupting Council by yelling and throwing profanities? Like showing up at the Mayor's residence by creating mischief and disturbing area residents?

Comment edited by Blotto on 2019-07-03 17:04:41

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